Home » Reviews » Off West End » Julius Caesar, St Paul’s Church

Julius Caesar, St Paul’s Church

William Shakespeare
Presented by Iris Theatre

★★★★

Pros: Great work by the actors and directors on making sure the Shakespearean language is understandable to all. Wonderful scenery including the use of lights and haze to set the mood of the play.

Cons: Shakespeare does it again with the length of the play – too long! Especially as roughly 200 people have to move from stage to stage in between scenes.

Our Verdict: A step up for Iris Theatre who are improving and growing year on year, this production really proves how accessible Shakespeare is.

Courtesy of Iris Theatre

I’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare, one of the benefits of coming from the Midlands with Stratford upon Avon an easy drive away, and being a member of a youth theatre whose director was passionate about introducing young people to the Bard. And yet this was the first time I have ever seen Julius Caesar. I knew a lot about it, Mark Anthony’s famous speech (“Friends, Romans, Countrymen…”) and Caesar’s“Et tu, Brute?” are probably up the list as two of the most (mis)quoted lines from Shakespeare along with some obvious others. Despite this I faced the coming 3 hours with a feeling of trepidation that I often get when going into one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. How very wrong I was to feel any sort of concern. This production was enthralling and thrilling, it’s not for nothing that this play is much loved and quoted.

The cast of 7 were dedicated and well-versed. It was clear that a great deal of time and effort had been put into ensuring the correct emphasis was placed on even the shortest of lines. This made the sometimes complexing Shakespearean language that often scares off audiences very understandable. The six men and one woman worked together on stage to really create the feeling of a volatile gang with complex, misunderstood characters. All of them produced fantastic perfornances, David Hywel Baynes was suitably naïve and brave as Brutus, Matt Wilman fierce in his loyalty as Mark Anthony and Daniel Hanna portrayed a Casca with a wild gleam in his eye that never ceased. Laura Wickham not only took on the role as the two females but also as the devastating character of Cinna and gave as good as the boys.

Daniel Winder was clearly a director with a vision. His attempt to transform the now familiar gardens and church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden into a dystopic vision of a future where the society we live in has crumpled into a dog-eat-dog world was a big ask and he was somewhat successful. What was actually done like this was genuinely interesting, including in particular the soothsayer’s costume and interval announcement reminiscent of a nuclear warning broadcast but by interspersing this with actual Roman costume and set something was lacking. I would perhaps have preferred it if a Roman theme had been more prevalent throughout rather than what looked, to me, like token pieces. This, however is a very pernickety criticism of a particularly brilliant adaptation and modernisation of Julius Caesar!

The show is in promenade which allows it to use seven sets and giving the show a fresh feel every 20 minutes or so. It also gives Daniel Winder must more to play with and he and his production team have utilised the vast potential of the church and its gardens to produce some spectacular staging with lights that do not let it down. I was however a bit disappointed that the sound equipment often made it difficult to understand what was coming out of the speakers but this dissatisfaction was greatly reduced when the final act of the show was played out in a dark, smokey and atmospheric church. An apt end to such a tragic story of the battle between men. However at three hours long this show is a relatively long and late evening. Despite this, the show is fast paced and carried along on the momentum and enthusiasm of the actors.

Thanks to Iris’s production of Julius Caesar I’ve fallen in love with Shakespeare all over again.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Julius Caesar runs at St Paul’s Church Covent Garden until the 26thJuly. 
Box office: www.iristheatre.com.

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